Psychological Triggers that Improve Ad Performance
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Designing High Converting Facebook Ads

What makes one ad stand out over another? Why are some ads more convincing than others?

Facebook face numerous hurdles – lack of trust in advertising, limited interest, people interested in content and not ads. The list goes on.

Previous lessons showed you the anatomy of ads, and how to creative high converting ads. The next step is to incorporate proven scientific studies that use human psychology. High converting ads use behavioural psychology to cut through and capture attention.

We’ve compiled an extensive list of the most useful and easy to implement behavioural psychology theories and studies. You can refer to this list every time you need ideas for your ads.


Scarcity is the phenomenon where a service is limited in availability, or perceived to be limited. Scarcity implies attractiveness or limit due to desire.

Studies show that scarcity works best when your target audience has less exposure to scarcity claims – if they interpret it as a sales tactic, scarcity becomes less effective.

There are two ways to use scarcity

  • Quantity – there is a limited number of something available
  • Time – after a certain duration, the product will disappear

Here is an example of a Facebook ad that uses scarcity. The ad:

  • Highlights a benefit
  • Shows that the benefit is contingent upon time
  • Shows much must time before the product disappears

Here’s how you can use it in your Facebook ads:

  • Put the time int the headline – similar to the ad above
  • Tease it and flesh out more details on your landing page
  • If the timing is 1-2 days, set your serving costs to impressions. That way more people will see your ads, assuming it’s a smaller more targeted audience.


We listen to our parents. We defer to experts. And we assume that people like doctors are smart.

This is the power of authority – people naturally are inclined to follow the instructions, or listen to someone who is in a position of perceived authority

Advertising is now different. Why else to advertisers use professional sports starts to sell sport clothing? It must be good if Michael Jordan uses it!

Authority is fundamentally about trust. Using authority as an advertising trigger can short-circuit people’s initial distrust of ads, and a brand or company they have no relationship with.

But authority must be used the right way. Here are some simple tips to remember:

  • Match authority to audience – you need to use an authoritative figure that your audience understands. Unknown authority is no authority!
  • Not just people – authority isn’t just a person. You can use anything that appeals to authority. Studies and well-known companies are just a few examples.
  • Use indirect cues – subtly include signs of authority, especially in your ad images

Social Proof

If everyone was jumping off a cliff, would you do it? Chances are you considered it for a moment. That’s a simple example of social proof.

Social proof is all about trust – people trust what other people do. And people trust people more than they trust a faceless organization.

One of the best authors for influence sums it up this way:

“If you can get people who are similar to the person you’re trying to persuade to speak on your behalf, it’s a lot easier for you than if you have to try to hammer your message one more time into a reticent mind.”

Excluding authority, which we discussed previously, social proof can be broken up into three different groups:

User and Customer Social Proof

People trust others who’ve used your product or service. That’s why many services include user ratings (Amazon, TripAdvisor, App Stores)  because people want unbiased opinion.

Testimonials are a great way to build social trust, by highlighting what a real person thinks about your organization.

Here’s how you can integrate this into your ads:

  • Include a quote from your customers
  • Show the number of users using your service
  • Highlight user reviews and positive third-party ratings

The Crowd-Knows-Best Social Proof

A powerful indicator of social proof is the crowd. If everyone is participating, it must be worthwhile. Groups of people signal to your audience you can be trusted.

Our example ad below highlights one way to use social proof. We’ve included our subscriber numbers as a way to show that people enjoy and use our content.

facebook ad social proof

Friends-Know-Best Social Proof

Social proof is usually derived from relationships. The third way to showcase social proof is by using friends or people close to your target audience.

The simplest way to do this on Facebook is to target Friends of Fans. Friends appear in the top of your ad, and shows potential customers that their friends are connected to you.


We all want to belong to something, or be part of a tribe. It’s why so many people gravitate to Facebook groups, join clubs, or be social – everyone wants to feel that emotion connection of belonging.

For your advertisements, belonging can be triggered by highlighting teh communal or social aspect of your product, such as:

  • Inviting them to a members-only group
  • Showcasing similar people, and asking “if these people are using it, why not you?”
  • Highlight how joining can make them part of your group, make them feel loved or connected with like-minded people

Our example shows you how simple tweaks can evoke a sense of community and belonging. “You don’t want to miss out” also implies fear of losing something.



Tied closely to belonging is self esteem. People don’t just want to be in a community, they want the benefits that come with it. Your target audience wants to be liked, respected and supported as a person who purchases your product and joins a group.

Esteem must focus on outcomes that your target audience will receive after becoming part of your group. This can be tied together with belonging by highlighting the group and the benefit.


Constant improvement is at the heart of most advertising. Increasing leads, increasing sales, increasing intelligence – all of this is anchored around the principle that users and businesses want to improve their situation.

Effectively using improvement can accomplished by addressing three questions:

What are you improving?

You need to clearly articulate what your product or services improves. Not only that, improvements must directly address the needs and wants of your audience. Improving math skills won’t help a small business audience.

Be sure your improvement aligns with your audience.

What is the likelihood of improvement?

If I told you learning our secret program would result in $1 million in sales within one week, would you believe me? Probably not. Or that if I said you had to take a year-long course, ace every exam and attend an in person meeting? Chances are most people can’t commit to that.

Improvement must be grounded in the likelihood that accomplishment is possible.

Is it easy to accomplish?

Improvements must also be easy to accomplish, especially when advertising. You shouldn’t tell someone their lives can be improved by purchasing a $5,000 product. That’s not easy to accomplish. If you are using advertising to start building a relationship with your customers, clearly articulate how easy it is to improve by using your product or service.


A powerful trigger than be used to great affect is curiosity. Research studies have shown that curiosity is when there is a gap between our knowledge of something, and our desire to learn more. Put in terms of advertising, curiosity is triggered when we want to find out more information about something.

Ads using curiosity must be structured in a specific way. Curiosity is built on a lack of knowledge about something and is satisfied when an individual has enough information. Therefore, if is important that you don’t address a person’s concerns immediately.

Using this strategy for Facebook ads, you would create an ad that drives curiosity, and satisfy that curiosity once an individual clicks that ad.

In hour example below, we’ve created curiosity by being incredibly honest. A question a viewer might ask is why are they saying they can’t get us 10,000 leads? We want viewers to be curious about our content so they click our ad, or even click “see more”.


Let’s be honest for a second (see what we did there…).

There’s alot of bullshit marketing out there. Advertisers promise you free money for no work, or free leads without spending any money. Sounds too good to be true right? That’s because it is.

Many digital marketers aren’t honest. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. And they forget to mention crucial details. So it’s not lying, but it is dishonesty by omission.

Dishonesty breeds distrust, and without trust, no one will buy from you.

There are a few different ways to use honesty:

Address common complaints

Every product, industry and service has problems. Airlines are notoriously bad at customer service. Your cable provider charges you too much. Marketing gurus charge way too much.

Being honest requires you to confront your industries common complaints. Our ad below does this by addressing common problems with marketing gurus – they promise you everything and deliver nothing.

Addressing complaints head-on will differentiate you from your competitors by showing honesty and awareness that viewers will find refreshing.

Be forthcoming

Problems are never addressed, or hide behind faceless corporations. By making yourself fully available and being forthcoming with your target audience, you will leave a lasting mark.

Be open and transparent

Transparency breeds trust. And since most companies are never open and honest, it is different enough to get noticed.

Buffer is an excellent example of this. Praise is heaped on them for being incredibly transparent – their salaries, revenue fundraising and product roadmap are all publicly available for everyone to see. By championing radical transparency, they’ve broken through their industry’s noise, creating a culture of trust between their company and their users.


Every first time interaction is shrouded in distrust. We have no reason to trust or believe a company during our first interaction. Nowhere is this more true than in advertising. Every ad viewer asks some form of the same question – why should I trust anything they say?

Establishing credibility helps build trust between you and your target audience. Statements such as “we can help you double your sales” are taken as truth if your company and your ads are credible.

Establishing credibility isn’t easy. But doing it will give you a leg up over your opponents.

Credibility can be established using triggers we previously discussed, like honesty, social proof and authority. Here are some other ways to establish credibility within your ads:

  • Results and successes that can be easily shown and proven
  • Concrete details about your service or product
  • Statistics that reinforce your argument
  • Letting users test or use your product before making a purchase


People make decision based on the first piece of information they receive. For example, let’s say I see a pair of shoes for $50. Then I see the same pair of shoes are on sale for $40. You would assume $40 is worth buying because it’s on sale. But if you typically bought shoes for $40, the $50 price wouldn’t seem like a sale.

That’s the power of anchoring – we tend to make decisions based on the first piece of information we see.

You can use anchoring by showing people the cost of your product, then showing the actual price with a discount.


It’s hard to remember everything. Naturally we tend to group similar things together. This is called clustering – it helps us remember large groups of information or stimuli by grouping similar things together.

Clustering also ties together with simplification. Overcomplicating and introducing too many different messages or ideals will reduce recall and engagement.

A simple strategy for creating ads is to cluster similar information into each ad. For Online Advertising School, we can use clustering to simplify our Facebook ads. Here’s an example below of two different ads. Which do you think is more powerful?

Endowment Effect

The endowment effect is all about how perceptions change value.
A study by Duke University found that students who received free tickets and valued them at $2,400. Those who bought their tickets valued them at $170. People place more value on something they already own.

What’s the takeaway for advertising? It comes down to ownership. If someone has ownership or perceived ownership over something, they will value it more. You can integrate this into your ad campaign by running a survey or quiz to previous sign-ups. Then you could follow-up with a purchase ad reminding them of their input. Perceived ownership is higher since they provided input towards your product or services’ creation

Consistency Principle

People naturally prefer to exhibit consistency rather than inconsistency. Studies back this up – people don’t want to publicly or internally be inconsistent.

There’s two ways we can use the consistency principle in advertising:

1) Keep your messaging and creative consistent. Don’t show different offers to the same person, or change your colours. People want a consistent experience

2) Upsell consistent products. Run ads to people based on their previous actions. For example, if someone signed up for our Facebook audience email course, we could serve them membership ads focused entirely on our many Facebook courses.

Loss Aversion

Studies show that loss is an important motivator when making decisions. What studies also show is that loss can be a bigger motivator than gain.

How does this work? One person is given $50 and told to do something not to lose it. Another person is told to do something, and will be given $50 not to lose it. The person who could lose something on average will complete that action more often than the person who has to do something. This illustrates the power of loss versus gain.

One easy way to use loss aversion is to set a time limit – “you must purchase by xx to get xx off” or “purchase by Sunday to get a free xx with your purchase”. The implication is they will lose it if they don’t act.

Another way is to offer a free trial. Your audience won’t want to lose their money – you remove the perception of loss by offering something for free. There’s zero risk to your customer to try it out.

Social Influence

Studies show that the actions of other influence decisions. For example, social science studies have shown that citizens are more likely to vote when they know their neighbours or peers are also voting.

Social influence closely resembles social proof – the difference is subtle, and is mainly due to a sense of belonging and guilt. You don’t want to be the only person on your street not mowing their lawn, do you? I didn’t think so.

Social influence can be used by drawing attention to how many of someone’s peers are using a product or service. Targeting ecommerce companies with a statistic like “90% of ecommerce companies use xx service” is a great example of social influence at work.

Mere Exposure Theory

The more we see or are exposed to something, the more we are drawn towards liking it.
A study by Kunst and Williams showed an octagon to participants for only a millisecond. While participants could not remember seeing it, they still showed a higher affinity for that shape.

We can use this in our ads by:

  • Repeating our message through different ad formats, on our website and in email communication
  • Being consistent in messaging to increase recall


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